Archive for October 12th, 2012

Thanks so much for your posts and for re-reading Nella. The Morena St. house underwent some changes after I took photos when researching the book. I’ve forgotten the professor/administrator’s name, but he did the work in the 1990s, so fairly recent history.
Bettye, it is great to see you off on yet another project. You are amazing. I am glad to see that you are feeling so much better.
Many thanks for sharing. This is fascinating to re-visit after so long.
Love, Thadious

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"Looking toward Fisk University"

The Shadow

Larsen Home, Front View
For details see Nella Larson written by Thadious Davis

"Little Theater, Fisk U.
Made using former slave quarters

"The Johnson House"
Built by Sinclair Oil for the Johnsons

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Nella Larsen in 1928

Nella Larsen in 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking for Nella

Nella Larsen, a biography by Thadious Davis, is worth reading and rereading. Which I have been doing. Years ago I received a call identifying someone collecting my paintings. She has become a dear friend who introduced me to the fascinating life and times of author, Nella Larsen.

Davis’ has written a well-researched book introducing an important woman author, who has not been well-known.

Nella Larsen was self-invented, mysterious and faded from her own history by choice.

Her journey from a family of mixed race living in Chicago, to Fisk in Nashville, and Harlem gave her the stories to write about. These are also places I have lived.

She had a few detours in Europe while my detours were here in the States.

Is the value of biography to get understanding where people’s lives intersect? This life study is important for many reasons. Davis uses her careful research to explain the construction of Larsen’s novels. It is instructive for anyone working in that format. Nella was so well read that she was able to incorporate themes from wide-ranging topics,authors and historical myths.

While she had only 2 novels and short stories published, their merits were acknowledged in her lifetime.

A second reason to read this book is the history of The New Negro Writers leading to the period called The Harlem Renaissance. The other reason is that her life, writings and the times deal with the African-American struggle for racial and family identity.

Davis shares her sources throughout with footnotes. The ‘characters’ and places are real. My readings can often tell about people and places I know. Tucked away in the texts are these surprises, finding old friends and favorite places. Larsen’s personal struggles echo those of many women. Women of any race or time deal with integrating their own needs and desires when limited by culture and personal choices.

Larsen was part of the second generation past the Civil War. When the soldiers returned from Europe in World War I, a strong air of racial pride followed. Davis mentions this event, followed by the Red Summer of 1919 as motivations for African-Americans to find expression through the arts. She also explains why these artists were accepted and promoted for a decade or more.

Who knew?

I did not know about Dr. and Mrs. Larsen Imes until I read this book. I recently retraced Nella Larsen Imes. She returned to Nashville as the wife of a brilliant, highly educated scientist and lived in a home built for them.

(See post with photos. Looking for Nella 2)                                                                             There are two views of the home, still elegant,  sitting on a large lot across the street from the Fisk campus. Dr. Imes could walk across the street to his office, laboratory and classrooms. Across the street in front of their house, on the corner, is a beautiful white house, former home of Arna Bontemps. Down the street at the next corner is the home built for the James Weldon Johnsons. All of these were part of the Harlem scene of the 1920s to 1930s.) We lived in the Johnson house when we arrived in Nashville from 1978-1982.) All but the Larsen Imes home are on the historic register.

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